Sunday 29 January 2017

White-billed sea monster in Lincolnshire

It is rare that I am dragged away from the gulls of London and the southeast for something I have seen before. However, some birds are worth the effort and today was one of those days. Roll back 21 years to March 1996 when I was a fresh faced 15 year old, and a day where my mum had driven me and Tom Lowe so we could see our first White-billed Diver on a small Lincolnshire river near Tattershall Bridge. That was the River Witham. And merely five miles north of there today - on that same inland Lincolnshire drain - was another of that same species of Arctic beast. There are birds and there are birds, and this massively impressive specimen falls into that latter category. Seemingly feeding quite nicely, and looking fine in the sunshine, I had a fantastic few hours on the River Witham to the north of Kirkstead Bridge today. Enjoy...

White-billed Diver River Witham north of Kirkstead Bridge, Lincs 29th January 2017

Saturday 28 January 2017

Good birding in London - Glaucous Gull & Siberian Chiffchaff

Another nice day with little travelling. If you'd have told me that I would really enjoy London birding when I first moved down here in 2003, I would have found that hard to believe. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the birding potential here in the capital is greater than that of Cheshire, where I grew up. Or at least that is how it now feels.

Anyway, today started off very disappointingly. I headed up to the tip at Pitsea with Jamie P and Steve A - no trucks, not a single one and just a couple of hundred or so gulls. 'Big white', the leucistic Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull was there but little else, just a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull.

By mid morning Jamie P and I were back in 'the smoke' and checking out Beckton/Creekmouth for gulls. Loads about, but distant and nothing interesting. Common Sandpiper and Rock Pipit were present, but star of the show was an overwintering Siberian Chiffchaff in among at least fifteen or so of its commoner cousins. A real chameleon, with it at times looking tea-coloured (as in the photo below) but then in the shade looking ghostly and slightly 'Bonelli's Warbler-like' with the bright primaries contrasting with the pale underparts and brown mantle.
Siberian Chiffchaff Beckton, London 28th January 2017
Then with news that there was a Glaucous Gull at Walthamstow, we headed off north... although the bird flew south. As this is Jamie's local area, he was quick to say it was worth checking Leyton Tip instead and as if by magic, on arrival, there was a big lump of a juvenile Glaucous Gull sitting on a London roof! Excellent, but views were a bit distant so I approached one of the workers - I'd whacked on my high vis vest, put on an estuarine accent and hey presto, Jamie and I were in and closer to it!
juvenile Glaucous Gull Leyton Tip, London 28th January 2017
Nearby at Walthamstowe, the Swallow - obviously my first in January - was whipping around the filter beds though was too distant for me to see it in any details (which I wanted to do, just to put my mind at rest for erythrogaster etc). There was also a Black Redstart fly catching here (having seen one elsewhere earlier in the day) while back in Rotherhithe last thing, there were three ringed gulls near my flat - Polish and NTGG Black-headed Gulls and then a rather familiar Herring Gull that can't get enough of me!
3rd-winter Herring Gull M2LT Rotherhithe, London 28th January 2017 - ringed at Rainham on 2nd January 2015, then I saw it at Rotherhithe on 29th March 2015, 18th June 2015, 21st June 2015, 28th June 2015 and 7th July 2015, before it was seen at Beddington on 19th January 2016 and 16th February 2016, and then I last saw it at Pitsea on 3rd September 2016.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Good stuff locally

I had a pretty nice time the weekend just gone. Crisp, cold with London nice and icy - and with dawn to dusk sunshine. And the furthest I went was the half dozen or so miles to Wanstead. In fact by lunchtime on Saturday I hadn't even budged out of Rotherhithe: -
Firecrest Rotherhithe, London 21st January 2017
This Firecrest was showing really well in the end in Russia Dock Woodland, while a couple of Fieldfares and Redwings were about too. With the tide about right on the Thames for the gulls, I headed the short distance over the river to Lyle Park and Thames Barrier where there was little about with just three Yellow-legged Gulls (a couple of adults and a regular second-winter). After Thursday's success in Rotherhithe (with the Caspian Gull in the previous post), I headed back south and gave the really local gulls a scan. Best thing about was this 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull, a bird seen a couple of times at the O2 previously: -
Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 21st January 2017
And so onto Sunday and it was Common Gull time. Wanstead is the place in London for this species, and there were at least 700 birds around on the playing fields and the two ponds. And with it all iced over, it was a very pleasant experience with five colour ringed birds (4 Norwegian, 1 Thames ringed) plus further metal rings from Finland and Norway as well as a metal-ringed German Black-headed Gull.
Common Gull JZ66 Wanstead, London 22nd January 2017 - ringed as a juvenile at Hovindammen, Valle Hovin, Oslo, Norway on 16th September 2015, seen at Wanstead on 19th March 2016, back at Hovindammen, Oslo, Akershus & Oslo, Norway on 8th July 2016 and 19th September 2016

Common Gull J3EN Wanstead, London 22nd January 2017 - ringed at Tveitevannet, Bergen, Hordaland, Norway as a juvenile on 14th September 2013, and then seen there again on 22nd September 2013 and Byparken, Bergen, Hordaland, Norway on 4th October 2013 but this is the first sighting since then and 1033km from where ringed

Common Gull J9R5 Wanstead, London 22nd January 2017 - ringed as an adult at Byparken, Bergen, Hordaland, Norway on 9th July 1998 with the colour ring attached there on 26th July 2011 - seen there in August 2011, April 2012, June to August 2015, Juy 2016 and Wanstead Flats 27th and 29th December 2016
Once the tide was right and the ground had started to thaw, it was back to Thames Barrier Park where there was a single 1st-winter Caspian Gull, 'darky' still lumbering about: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 22nd January 2017
A second-winter Yellow-legged Gull followed me from Thames Barrier to the O2, but that was about it there with just a Danish ringed Black-headed Gull there becoming my 100th gull ring that I'd read in 2017. And again, that was that and the weekend was over. A shame Dante missed the 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Thames Barrier Park and didn't get his birthday Casp.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Caspian Gull on my Rotherhithe doorstep

I had a bit of a shock today. Having been to the dentist at lunchtime, I thought a cheeky check of the river nearby in Rotherhithe on the way back to school was in order. Just assumed I may get a Black-headed Gull or Herring Gull ring at best. But no - bins up, and bang there is a monster of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull sitting on the sand (what I refer to as 'the beach') by the Hilton Hotel. Get the camera out, press the trigger and... no memory card! What a completely unprofessional manoeuvre. No problem, I would just drive a couple of minutes home and get it. Nope, after scuffling about I realised I'd left my house keys at school.

No way was I going to be defeated though and I racked my brains over potential solutions. My first ever first-winter Caspian Gull in Rotherhithe and I had completely ballsed things up. Extreme actions were needed, and so I made a mad dash to the Tesco at Canada Water where I dashed in and out, spent £12 on a memory card and all for...

1st-winter Caspian Gull Rotherhithe, London 19th January 2017
One of the best ways I have ever spent £12 to be honest. Lovely bird, and always a pleasure to get something like this slap bang where you live. And also a different individual to any of those we've been seeing in the Greenwich/Thames Barrier area recently. Normally this blog does indeed focus on the 'beyond' in its title but for once, Rotherhithe was on form today. Bring on the weekend!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Rotherhithe, London 19th January 2017

Sunday 15 January 2017

Five Caspian Gulls in London - let me introduce you to them

I went to Pitsea yesterday with Jamie P, and it wasn't great - the juvenile Glaucous Gull was there again but little else, not even a Caspian Gull. But today has been a little bit different - managed to drag myself out the house just after nine this morning having had a lovely meal with my parents and Karen the evening before. And so in the pouring rain I joined the ever enthusiastic (and youthful) Dante S who'd managed to tape an umbrella to the railings at Lyle Park to keep (semi-) dry. Jamie P turned up a little later and his method of keeping dry was rather more unsuccessful.

Anyway, it turned out to be a fantastic morning of gulls. At Lyle Park, there were four familiar 1st-winter Caspian Gulls along with a brute of a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull. Then we headed off to the O2 in Greenwich where there were two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls - a new bird that I'd not seen before and one of the birds from Lyle Park. And so five 1st-winter Caspian Gulls brightened up the dank day weather wise.

Let me introduce you to all of them personally: -

Caspian Gull 'Lyle'
As the name suggests, Lyle has been hanging about Lyle Park since mid-November and you can be sure to find it either there or nearby on the foreshore at Thames Barrier Park. A classic, crisp 1st-winter.

'Lyle' at Lyle Park, London 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Otis'
Otis has been around for about as long as Lyle, but isn't quite as faithful and seems to go missing from time to time. It has a number of newly moulted coverts and shows thinner arrowheads on its scapulars compared to Lyle, and some fairly uniform grey ones too. A nice distinctive bird that I've been enjoying seeing this winter, mainly at Lyle Park: -

'Otis' at Lyle Park, London 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Mucky'
A much more, as its name suggests, darker and muckier individual that I think is an altogether smaller bird than Otis and Lyle - so possibly a female. Mucky can be recognised by some heavily marked scapulars and a pale-ish base to its bill. Today, Mucky started off at Lyle before following us to the O2 later on in the morning

'Mucky' at Lyle Park (top) and O2 Greenwich (bottom) on 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Darky'
As the slightly politically incorrect name suggests, there is something a bit more coloured than usual on this 1st-winter Caspian Gull - though it avoided my camera in the pouring rain today, it is a distinctive individual with fairly obvious dark centres to a lot of its scapulars. And it tends to hang about at Lyle Park.
'Darky' at Lyle Park, London on 2nd January 2017

Caspian Gull - new bird 'Slick'
As well as the three birds mentioned above, there was also a regular bird with dark scapular markings at Lyle (distantly and in the pouring rain) as well as this beautiful new bird that was at the O2 in Greenwich around lunchtime. A real quality, pompous individual that I'm calling 'Slick' from now on.

'Slick' at Greenwich O2, London 15th January 2017
Add in a couple of 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls and a few gull rings, and public transport birding in London - all within three miles of my home - doesn't look too shoddy.

Sunday 8 January 2017

Back on the tip with a bang!

For a variety of reasons, Pitsea tip has been neglected this winter - most of this due to the vast reduction in Saturday activity with just a handful of dustcarts heading up there. But with a bit of a poor tide for London sites until mid afternoon, it was worth a punt this Saturday. And how glad Steve A and I were that we made the effort.

Started off with a bang, with probably the first scan of the tip revealing this beaut of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull - ringed HC5X0 - in the melee. From the Ukraine or Belarus, so a true beast from the east.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
Not long after, a familiar face was spotted - 911P! This 1st-winter Caspian Gull has been about a bit having started life in Central Poland in June 2016. Mick and Richard spotted it at Dungeness in mid-October before Dante, Jamie and I had it just last Monday, 2nd January, on the Thames foreshore at Lyle Park and then Steve A had it on Bower's Marsh on Friday 6th January. But unlike in London, it was a bit of a slag for the camera on the tip: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And there were a further four unringed Caspian Gulls too - three further 1st-winters and then a 2nd-winter too. So six Caspian Gulls was a real result!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
2nd-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And not to mention the white wingers - Steve A picked up this 2nd-winter Iceland Gull scrubbing about in the rubbish.
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And then, getting a call from a couple of birders on Bower's Marsh saying a juvenile Glaucous Gull was flying our way, literally as soon as the phone had been put down we both simultaneously locked onto this massive unit of a bird: -
juvenile Glaucous Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And with 'big white' the leucistic Great Black-backed Gull still about too, along with a total of 29 rings (including birds from Norway, The Netherlands, Aberdeenshire, Yorkshire and Suffolk), it was a pretty good day. And that was not withstanding as I left the tip, I realised I needed some bread for London gulling so headed to the Pitsea Lidl (36p per loaf there!), where I found the first local Waxwings - 22 of them - for the winter.
4th-winter Great Black-backed Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017

Friday 6 January 2017

London's juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls - do a lot of them actually winter here?

Been seeing a lot of gulls since the last post and will try to catch up on them - a trip to Portugal produced over 60 different rings, two American Herring Gulls, a Caspian and a Glaucous Gull while within 3 miles of my Central London home Caspian Gulls have been rather regular which has been pleasant enough.

But that isn't what this post is all about. It is about Yellow-legged Gulls. London has long been known to get a summer influx of juveniles - from early to mid July peaking in mid to late August usually. They then by mid to late September be much less numerous, and assumed to have headed off to pastures new. Think that's kind of what I write every year for the London Bird Report anyway. But this year has made me re-think things as having two 'distinctive' individuals has allowed a bit of tracking: -

'Swiss Tony' (yellow HD232)
First seen on 31st August and 1st September at the O2 by Jamie P and I, and then Dante and I saw a Yellow-legged Gull at Lyle Park on 2nd January which had a yellow ring. And then Dante saw it well at the O2 a couple of days ago on 4th January with photos here.
Yellow-legged Gull O2 Greenwich, London 1st September 2016
I first saw this bird on 17th August 2016 on the foreshore by the O2 at Greenwich, and Jamie P saw it either that same day or the day after.
Yellow-legged Gull  O2 Greenwich, London 17th August 2016
It was seen the next week and then has been seen sporadically either near the O2 or east of there at Thames Barrier Park as recently as 23rd December 2016.
Yellow-legged Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 23rd December 2016
So to conclude, or at least wrap this up: -
1. Yellow-legged Gulls that come to London mid to late summer actually winter in larger numbers than previously thought (and in 1st-winter plumage get drowned out by other similar large gulls due to their subtlety) or
2. The two 'distinctive' birds talked about above are perhaps just exceptions rather than the norm and it is just coincidence they've both overwintered

Up to you which of the above you think is most likely, but get a decent gathering of large gulls on the Thames east of Central London midwinter and I'd be pretty sure you'd find a Yellow-legged Gull in among them after a bit of searching.